Whimsical Automata

Tin, wood, paper, and plaster are scattered across the workshop of a small museum in Arimaonsen, a quaint hot spring town in Hyogo Prefecture, near Kobe. The projects on the tables are in various stages of completion and repair. A fox’s eyes peer playfully through the glass, into a room full of whimsy. Antique automata and their paper cousins fill the room, astounding visitors with their clever, and curious, engineering.

Arimaonsen is famous for three things: its hot springs, its cider, and its museums. The Arima Automata and Toys Museum houses well over a hundred different automata from all throughout history, some dating back to tea serving robots in China, all the way to the modern “Horsemen of the Apocalypse: Real Estate Agent.”

I’ve visited this museum twice, and each time it has been wonderful. However, talking about automata is not nearly as fun as showing them off, so I’ve created a small video of my favorites:

In addition to the displayed automata, visitors can take part in workshops showing how to create these fragile machines, or buy pre-made cutouts to assemble at home. An entire floor is dedicated to nutcrackers and other old wooden, German toys. At various times of the day, there is also a short lecture, featuring an exceptionally rare (and expensive) nightingale music box. Modern recreations of this type of automata can run for as much as $5,000.

If you’d like to see more photos of the museum, feel free to visit my Flickr gallery:

Arima Automata & Toys Museum Gallery


42 thoughts on “Whimsical Automata

    • Alex Hurst says:

      Haha! Yes, they had a lot of cute ones, like a spider with only half of its legs, endlessly going in circles. (Captioned: Spiders were never really taken seriously until they got all eight legs.)


    • Alex Hurst says:

      I’m glad you enjoyed it, Anabel! They have another museum that is purely music boxes. I may have to check that one out next time we head that way. πŸ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

    • Alex Hurst says:

      It definitely has some crazy mechanisms. Some of them I can’t figure out! And the ones made of purely paper!! Wow!


  1. saraletourneau says:

    I agree with the others, Alex! No photos could have done the automata justice. Loved the video where we could see how they worked, moved, and danced. And some of them are quite funny! Thanks for sharing. πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

  2. peakperspective says:

    Brilliant, Alex. I loved the videos and I would adore this museum.
    Long ago, when Disney World first opened Epcot center, I was lucky enough to be there to see the early results of the massive investment of money and creativity with their automation projects and came to know a couple of the “imagineers.” I am always surprised by the ingenuity of others where function and art meet at a crossroads.
    Again, a wonderfully interesting post!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Alex Hurst says:

      Wow, that sounds like it was quite the experience!! I’d love to hear more about it in one of your posts. That’s just really cool. πŸ™‚


  3. Nagzilla says:

    These are very cool. They remind me of some of the old action banks from the turn of the century. And I used to have one of the spinning candle things at the end.

    For some reason, this reminded me of the zoetropes they have at the Studio Ghibli Museum. Have you been there yet? If you get a chance before you leave, you really must make a trip over to see it. It’s one of our favorite memories. Simply magical!


  4. TRISTA says:

    Oh my gosh these are so cool!!! You find the most magical things. Except for the “Flogging” one…oh dear. I would love to have something like this in my house. How could you have a bad day if you came home to one of these?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Alex Hurst says:

      I think it would be impossible to have a bad day after seeing one! I really should have bought one of their paper ones. They’re so cool!

      The Flogging a Dead Horse is one of my fav’s actually, haha. XD It has a lot of things going on there. πŸ˜‰


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